While Michael Schultz’s Krush Groove (1985) and Stan Lathan’s Beat Street (1984) represent two of Hollywood’s earliest engagements with hip-hop music and culture, little critical attention has been paid to these films. Instead, cultural critics from within and outside the hip-hop community tend to focus on films such as the publicly-funded, documentary-styled Wild Style (1983) and Style Wars (1983) as more “authentic” representations of early hip-hop culture. This essay argues that the dearth of critical analysis of these films evinces a binary paradigm implicit in much academic and mainstream discussion of hip-hop music and culture, in which hip hop must always either be resistant to or complicit with its absorption into the capitalist cultural marketplace, either “authentic” or a “sellout,” either “fake” or “real.” An employment of Jean Baudrillard’s notions of the proliferation of simulacra and the implosion of binary paradigms of meaning in postmodern society points up the ways that hip hop has, since its inception, called the very existence of such dichotomies into question. The essay argues that such seeming contradictions have always been inherent in hip-hop culture itself, and that hip-hop artists’ playful negotiations of these very tensions have afforded the genre its immense staying power in a postmodern society characterized by the implosion of binaries separating culture and commerce, work and play, reality and simulation. Analyses of these early “Hollywoodized” hip-hop films and the responses they spurred, then, have much to reveal about hip-hop music and culture’s entry into the mainstream commercial marketplace, and about hip hop’s continuing, fraught negotiations around the notions of authenticity and “keeping it real.”


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pp. 117-132
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